For a full repeal: On AFSPA

The relaxation of AFSPA is welcome, but the demand for full repeal should be considered

Updated - April 04, 2022 09:58 am IST

Published - April 04, 2022 12:10 am IST

In what is clearly a nod to the vociferous demand for the repeal of the unpopular Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from several States in the northeast, especially after 13 civilians were killed in Mon district in Nagaland in December last year, the Union Home Ministry has decided to considerably reduce the number of “disturbed areas” under the Act in three States. The order, from April 1, is applicable for six months. In Nagaland, while AFSPA was removed from the jurisdiction of 15 police stations in seven districts, it remains in place in 57 police stations in 13 districts. The relaxation has been most substantial in Assam, where it has been removed entirely from 23 districts and partially from one, thus limiting its operation fully to only nine districts. In Manipur, on the other hand, only 15 police station areas in six districts have been excluded from the disturbed area notification, and the Act is still in force in 82 police stations in 16 districts, including several hill districts whether or not they adjoin the international boundary. As things stand, the Government’s decision to relax the application of the Act in specific areas seems to stem from the reduction in violence and also administrative reasons rather than as a response to the burning question on whether the Act is essential to security operations in these States, which have experienced insurgencies of various degrees in the past.

While this piecemeal gesture would be welcomed by the residents in these areas in particular, the popular demand for the repeal of the Act in full from the three States remains unfulfilled. Despite the vociferous protests from security forces for the retention of the Act, human rights organisations, sections of civil society and committees including the five-member committee led by retired Supreme Court judge B.P. Jeevan Reddy in 2005, have steadfastly called for its repeal. The committee in particular had suggested that the Act had created an impression that the people of the northeast States were being targeted for hostile treatment and that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act could instead be suitably amended to tackle terrorism. The Supreme Court-appointed Justice N. Santosh Hegde committee, in 2013, which investigated “encounter” killings in Manipur, suggested that the Act must be properly reviewed every six months to see if its implementation is necessary, but extensions of the purview of the Act have proceeded as routine affairs. In 2016, the Supreme Court had also ruled that the armed forces could not be immune from investigation for excesses committed during the discharge of their duties even in “disturbed areas”, in effect circumscribing the conditions in which the immunity is applied. These beg the question again — why should the Act remain in the statute?

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